Pak OIC Meet: Forget Afghanistan, Big Money Is Imran Khan’s Real Focus

Islamabad has tried to ensure that representatives of almost every country with money in its pockets are invited.

5 min read

On paper, it’s a very grand event indeed. After all, the foreign ministers of 57 states of the Organisation of Islamic States (OIC) are holding an emergency meeting in Pakistan, with all the pomp and ceremony due to such a large gathering. What’s more, the meeting has been called to discuss Afghanistan, surely one of the most urgent issues for the region. It’s a wonder that the OIC hasn’t acted sooner, considering all the ‘brotherly’ and similar epithets being used in the conference. But the meeting, touted as the biggest such in 41 years to be held in Pakistan, has certainly ensured Pakistan a day in the sun, and perhaps longer if some of its objectives are met.


The Attendees

A closer look at the list of 57 member states is instructive. The overwhelming majority have a hard enough time looking after themselves. Turkey, which might have had some heft, has run its economy to the ground, as has Pakistan, whose currency is declining perilously by the day. This is a Saudi-led group, with a few like Bahrain, the UAE, Oman and Qatar in supporting roles – that’s how it has always been. In the final list of attendees, some 30 ministers appear to have accepted, as well as special representatives of the US, Russia and China, with this perhaps being the first such event for the US envoy Thomas West.

Meanwhile, Islamabad has been working the telephone directory to ensure that representatives of almost every country with money in its pockets are invited. That includes invitations to the ‘P5’ of the Security Council, Australia, Germany and Canada.

Taliban ‘Foreign Minister’ Amir Khan Muttaqi will also attend the meeting. No need to read between the lines as to what Islamabad is looking for, though Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, was careful to point out that this invite did not mean recognition to the group. Clearly, it mostly means money.

The Rather Late Emergency Meeting

The emergency meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers was officially called by Saudi Arabia in its capacity as chair of the organisation. The notice on the meeting in the Saudi state press is interesting. It calls for a collective stance on key principles, including Afghanistan’s security, stability sovereignty and territorial integrity, “free from external interference, while rejecting terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and ensuring that Afghan territory is not used as a refuge or safe haven for terrorist and extremist groups … also urge the interim government in Afghanistan to be more inclusive, to abide by international norms and conventions, and to respect human rights and women’s rights to work and education granted in Islam”. Barring the last sentence, it reads almost like a readout from a State Department official.

Riyadh said Pakistan “offered” to host the meeting. That is ‘diplospeak’ for Islamabad probably having – in desperation – begged for a meeting, with the Taliban showing no inclination to govern and a reported 2,90,000 refugees having already moved to Pakistan.

That ask must have been terribly awkward. Saudi-Pakistani relations have only just begun to mend following the visit of the Saudi Foreign Minister in July.

Relations broke down after Qureshi scandalised almost everyone by threatening Riyadh that it would be ‘compelled’ to call its own meeting of Islamic countries if the OIC did not meet on the revocation of Article 370 in Kashmir. That was a disastrous call. Riyadh suspended all loans, deferred oil payments and recalled its $1-billion loan.

Since then, another loan of $4.2 billion has just recently been passed, though on a higher rate of interest and very harsh terms.

What the OIC Did and What Pakistan Wants

The meeting adopted a resolution committed to setting up a Humanitarian Trust Fund by early next year, with members, Islamic financial institutions and international institutions invited to donate to this. A special envoy was appointed, and a Food Program has been set up, both of which are good initiatives. Individual OIC members, such as Qatar, have been generous in providing aid, while the first tranche of Saudi aid began just two days before the meeting, with some six aircraft flying in aid to Kabul. A second tranche is via 200 trucks from Pakistan. That’s good for Pakistan in more ways than one. It allows Islamabad to show itself as a benefactor, and that is good for the economy since all that aid will be bought from Pakistan. This pattern is likely to be followed if other OIC countries follow suit.

As Qureshi rather smugly put it, the US envoy, Tom West, was able to have a meeting with the Taliban’s Amir Khan Muttaqi. Indeed, the Taliban were given the platform to meet just about everyone, apparently to bridge the ‘trust deficit’. This is at a time when their record on human rights is plunging.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in his speech decided that human rights had to be seen from a cultural perspective, citing the reluctance to educate women in his own tribal areas. That won’t wash much in Kabul, which has been accustomed to a liberal order for decades, barring the short rule of the Taliban. The second part of the Pakistani thrust is to push for an unfreezing of assets frozen, which the OIC is to pursue, with the Islamic Development Bank to coordinate.

As much as $9.5 billion in assets is still held in the US, which is entirely legal, since the Taliban are still a sanctioned entity that took power by force. In such circumstances, even the Islamic Development Bank will be circumscribed in issuing letters of credit and import transactions.

For Pakistan’s plan to succeed, the Taliban have to be taken off the designations list. That seems unlikely given the background of most of its ministers, including the Haqqanis, who seem to be engaged in a tussle in getting out the (relatively) more moderate persons. To give in now is to give in to terrorists.


Adding Up and Getting the Total Right

As the Pakistan economy sputters to a stop, Islamabad is in no position to consolidate its takeover of Afghanistan. Imran Khan now says it is the OIC’s 'religious duty' to finance this operation – because that is what it essentially is. Never mind that as a Muslim nation, it is directly responsible for thousands of Muslims dead and maimed in Afghanistan, and bringing them to their knees. However, with a rather grim Saudi Arabia in the lead, the OIC will not be amenable to a free ride.

Yet, the Afghan people should not be made to suffer through no fault of their own. The international community should hold the Taliban accountable by all means, but also make Islamabad accountable for bringing known terrorists into the Taliban cabinet. As former President Hamid Karzai said, the Islamic State is also in part a creation of Pakistan. Terrorists parading as ministers, ISI men parading as ‘consultants’, all of this has to stop. Then, and only then, can the Kabul regime not just be recognised but be able to develop into something approaching a normal state.

(Dr Tara Kartha is a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS). She tweets @kartha_tara. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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